Festive Frights: Don't Forget To Include A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY In Your Yearly Rotation
We all know Halloween is a horror fan's biggest holiday, but Christmas is a close second. Welcome to our celebration of yuletide fueled terror, our 12 Days of Festive Frights.
There are more than enough classic holiday horror movies that we all know and love, a few of which you’ll see spotlighted during our celebration of Festive Frights here on Ghastly Grinning. It’s a great time of year to revisit movies like Black Christmas and Gremlins, but if you’re looking for something new to add to your regular holiday viewing rotation, then listen up! Never one to let a gem of a movie remain undiscovered, I’m here to tell you about A Christmas Horror Story – available right now for your viewing pleasure on Netflix streaming.
Still riding on the high of seeing Michael Dougherty’s fantastic celebration of holiday fear, Krampus, two years ago I first gave A Christmas Horror Story a shot just to see some more of the anti-Claus on screen. I soon found out that this 2015 Canadian horror anthology offers so much more than that.
On Christmas Eve in Bailey Downs (the setting for another great Canadian horror film, Ginger Snaps), four stories of terror are unfolding simultaneously. A group of teenagers are trapped in their school’s basement while investigating two murders that occurred there last year; a dysfunctional family battles Krampus; parents are terrorized by their young son who has changed after getting lost in the woods; and Santa Claus himself must fight against his own elves who have turned into zombies. The wraparound that ties them all together is William Shatner as radio DJ Dangerous Dan.
As far as structure is concerned for producing a great anthology, A Christmas Horror Story excels. The stories are interwoven together throughout the 100-minute runtime rather than each of them playing out in full one by one. Some snippets of each story play out shorter than others, but they all manage to cut and move on to the next one at just the right time to keep the suspense and excitement up for their respective conclusions. The way each of them cuts never feels abrupt, and the flow is smooth and organic. The characters are all connected in some way before they each head off in their own direction, including the seemingly unrelated Santa Claus story. While some viewers might prefer the opposite structure for an anthology – one story right after another – the technique used here is just as effective and provides a great ride. With five writers and four directors, all involved really managed to pull everything together into a tight, cohesive film.
There is a great balance of tone at work in A Christmas Horror Story. Shatner provides comedic relief in his bits, complementing the otherwise dark mood of the rest of the film. The Santa story in particular is a great example of this. While all the stories have an other-worldly element to them, this one is the most fantastical and the most fun. Scrooged is my all-time favorite Christmas movie, and if you’re like me, you’ve maybe always wanted to see a version of The Night the Reindeer Died played out for real. Watching Santa massacre blood-thirsty, foul-mouthed elves is what Christmas joy is all about for a horror fan. The elves are dispatched of in bloody and gruesome ways, as Santa slices and dices his way through them with his very sharp golden staff. But perhaps the best part of A Christmas Horror Story is the actual conclusion to this story – something that has been hinted at along the way, and that finally reveals to the viewer that this story is just as dark as all the others.
The Krampus story is sort of the opposite of this, in that it starts out more serious but has a rather gleeful twist at the end. A normal, yet non-happy, family visit a rich aunt who introduces the legend of Krampus to them and they spend the rest of the night trying to escape his clutches. Each member of the family has their naughty side (some more serious than others) that make them easy pickings for the demon. Yet there is still a nice message in here. Much like yearly Christmas gatherings themselves, this is a family that doesn’t really connect with one another but must do so anyway under the circumstances, and they learn how much they truly care for each other in the process. The Krampus demon is the same large, horned, and hoofed monster that other movies have depicted, but this one manages to look just a little creepier than them because he is pure white, a color not usually associated with something evil.
With plenty of killer Santas and ancient demons out there as antagonists for Christmas horror films, this one again does something a little different by bringing a ghost story into the mix. The setup for the three kids trapped in the basement is that the school used to be a convent, and the person responsible for the deaths of the two students a year prior might not actually be a person at all. This part of the anthology plays out like a traditional ghost tale, and the screenwriters did a great job of relating the ghost’s story to Christmas to make it fit the narrative. It’s actually a rather creepy and unsettling scenario that could make an interesting story were it fleshed out to feature-length, though what we get here is perfectly satisfying. The abandoned-part-of-a-building setting always works for me, and the relationships between the three characters play well into the ghost’s intentions.
I would have to say that the weakest story of the bunch is the one with the changeling son. And I don’t mean that it is weak in terms of its execution – it just doesn’t seem to fit with the whole idea of “a Christmas horror story” because while a changeling is a creature of folklore and myth just like Krampus, it doesn’t have anything to do with the holiday itself. Ignoring that, the story still matches the dark tone of the rest of the film not just with the son but with the overall family dynamic present. They play a little bit with who might be the really evil one of the family because of the father’s rage issues (he was one of the cops who found the dead kids in the school basement), and cement the idea of a mother’s unconditional love for her child. This story also differentiates itself by having the most hopeful ending of any of the others.
A Christmas Horror Story is really a perfectly structured anthology that wonderfully brings together many of the things that genre fans want to see in a festively frightful tale. Its moody tone is a great juxtaposition to the otherwise joyous holiday, while still offering some good chuckles and fun along the way. Make your spirit bright by enjoying this holiday gem this Christmas season and, hopefully, every year to come.